“Hey,” I murmured, “are you okay?”
He jerked his head in an abrupt movement. “No.”
“Okay.” I frowned at him. When he didn’t say anything more, I leaned my leg against the building and started to stretch it out. “Can you tell me what’s wrong?”
“What the hell?” I whipped around. It sounded like someone was being strangled. I started to step towards the back, but the clerk grabbed my arm.
He held me back. “Don’t.” His voice was trembling, as was his hand. The longer he held me, I realized all of him was shaking.
A foreboding sensation started in me. “What’s your name?”
I nodded. This guy was about to piss his pants and I glanced down. He hadn’t, but he was close. Reaching up, I started to remove his hand from my arm, but his fingers tightened. He hurried out, “No. You can’t go over there.”
“Okay.” I let his hand stay in place. “Where?”
“They’re on the other side of the gas station, by the back.”
I nodded. He looked ready to bolt. “Why?”
“AHHHHHHHHHH! No …” The last ended on a whimper. A girl’s whimper.
I started to turn again. The girl was in trouble, and it wasn’t because she was crying to cry. She was crying in fear, the kind that comes from deep inside a person.
“No.” Ben pulled me back, firmer this time. He had stopped shaking so much. “You can’t go back there.”
“Okay, but why?”
His mouth closed and his lips pressed tight.
“Ben, you have to tell me or I’m going to kick you in the balls so I can go and see who that is.”
He winced and tried to cover himself with one hand. I snorted. That wasn’t going to help.
“Ben,” I started again.
The girl cried out again, but it was hushed by someone else. A male someone. The foreboding sense kicked into full gear. Disgust was next. I had to go. Whether this clerk was going to let me go or not, I was going. “I mean it. Let go or you’re never going to have children.”
“You just,” he faltered. “You can’t.”
I started around the corner, dragging Ben with me. My blood was still pumping from adrenalin. I hadn’t gone numb like I usually did when I run. I was going to help whoever was back there. I’d been hurt. Someone came to help me. I was going to do the same.
“You can’t,” Ben grunted as he held me back. He was scrawny, but he was stronger than me. I was hauled back and then shoved towards the front of the gas station. “Budd Broudou is back there.”
I stopped. Ice cold water filled my veins, and I couldn’t move.
That was Budd.
So that was Kate. This was it, this was what he would’ve done to me if Mason hadn’t manipulated everything.
“Nnoo … AH! Wha—”
“Shut up,” he hissed at her.
I flinched. I could imagine him slapping his hand over her mouth. Then he continued doing whatever he was doing.
“Oh my god.”
“See.” Ben yanked me the rest of the way. “You can’t go back there. He’ll hurt you. She told him that you were Mason’s girlfriend and not her, but he didn’t believe her. You can’t go back there. He might not care and hurt both of you.”
“Call the cops.”
He stopped, and I ran into him. Shaking his head, he started trembling again. “Yeah, right.”
“You have to.”
“He is hurting her.” It didn’t matter. None of it mattered. If she hurt me, if she hadn’t. What he was doing—I didn’t even want to know, though I had a good idea—was wrong. Revulsion swept through me, but I shoved it down.
I’d been hurting. Someone helped me. That kept running through my head. I had to help her, no matter who she was.
“We can’t call the cops.”
“We have to. Do you have cameras? Anything? Her uncle is a cop.”
“Okay.” He still looked ready to piss his pants. “We have two cameras, no—three. We have three cameras.”
He stopped. Nothing.
I asked, “Where are they?”
“Oh. One is pointing towards the front. One is where they are and the other is inside.”
My heart sank. “So none on him?”
He shook his head and pushed up his glasses. They began sliding down right away, but he didn’t notice. His eyes were glued to me and his hand went back to his hip, his very tiny, scrawny hip. I sighed. What the hell was I doing?
“His truck is over there.”
He pointed down the road where his truck was hidden in a copse of trees. It was far enough away from the gas station and surrounded by healthy trees. If … a plan began to form, but as I went over it in my head, I couldn’t. There was no way.
He slapped her again. It was followed by a thud.
I closed my eyes. He hurt her again.
That sealed it. Looking at Ben, there was uncertainty, but panic mixed with trust. He was trusting me, but I had no idea what I was doing. I did, but I held no promise it was going to work. It had to. I pushed all the fear down, and I remembered everything that had made me angry.